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Brian Francis | | May 23, 2014

Francis: St. Thomas' Veglahn tosses gem in opener

  Eric Veglahn's no-hitter was broken up the eighth inning.

APPLETON, Wis. -- Although St. Thomas (Minn.) hurler Eric Veglahn lost his perfect game in the bottom of the eighth inning, his career mark remains unblemished at 13-0. The Tommies’ southpaw retired the first 21 batters before a lead-off blooper dropped in shallow left field in the eighth inning. Veglahn allowed another blooper to the right side in the ninth before finishing a complete game two-hit shutout.

“That was the best performance I’ve ever seen. You did a fantastic job,” Tommie catcher J.D. Dorgan recalls telling Veglahn, “Let’s just finish the shutout, go home and be able to sleep in tomorrow.’’

“That was probably the most motivation today,” St. Thomas head coach Chris Olean said, referring to the team sleeping in and playing a later game Saturday.

Before touching the rubber, Veglahn received a five-run cushion as the Tommies managed to plate five runs on just two hits in the top half of the first against the two-time national pitcher of the year. Linfield, ranked No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball poll, entered the tournament as the defending national champions, the top pitching staff (2.06 ERA), and the second-best fielding team (.973 fielding percentage). Three unprecedented walks from Linfield ace Chris Haddland, along with three fielding errors, a wild pitch, passed ball, and three stolen bases gave the Tommies an early 5-0 edge.

“Being a pitcher, you can’t ask for more than that,” Veglahn said. “At that point all you have to do is throw strikes and hit your spots.”

And the strikes kept pouring in from the lefty, totaling a season-high 12 strikeouts to just the one walk in the ninth. Locating fastballs, getting ahead in counts, and continuously pounding the strike zone allowed Veglahn to lift his Tommies to the second round where they will meet the winner of the Baldwin-Wallace/Emory game.

“One of the better pitched games I’ve seen in quite a while,” Olean said, “Certainly coming into that situation with Linfield being as good as they are. To be able to step up and throw that way is unbelievable. One of the better pitching performances I’ve seen.’’

“[Veglahn] pitched well,” Linfield head coach Scott Brosious said, “he kept us off balance and we were defensive at the plate.”

There has never been a no-hitter in the NCAA Division III national finals, nor has anyone from St. Thomas tossed one in the past 18 years. Veglahn came within one out earlier this season, losing a no-hit bid in the bottom of the seventh with two outs on April 26 at Carleton. Veglahn said his teammates did not break the unwritten baseball code of talking to a pitcher amidst a perfect game – which was not the case earlier in the season.

“It was pretty quiet. We screwed that up before. We had that going and … Tommy Danczyk screwed it up,” joked Olean, “He said something, it was on him. This one was pretty quiet.”

St. Thomas hung another five-spot in the top of the sixth off six more hits, giving Veglahn plenty of breathing room against the top-ranked Wildcats. Pacing around the dugout and plugging the perfect game bid in the back of his mind during the lengthy inning,  Veglahn stepped back out in the bottom of the sixth without missing a beat, sending the Wildcats down in order with a pair of strikeouts.

“I thought about it but, up 10, you just want to throw strikes and we got the win,” Veglahn said. “That’s what matters to me.’’

St. Thomas has not lost in the month of May at 13-0, while claiming victory in 29 of its past 31 contests. The Tommies have outscored opponents 48-19 during the NCAA tournament, while hitting .361 in their five postseason games. 

Veghlan gives credit to his teammates and coaching staff for his perfect career mark of 13-0. Nine of those wins have came this year, including a pair of NCAA tournament victories allowing just one earned run in 16 innings with 22 strikeouts throughout the tournament.

“J.D. [Dorgan] is easily the best catcher I’ve ever had,” Veghlan said, “and the coaches call the pitches, I just have to hit spots.”

And he keeps hitting those spots, yet to taste defeat in his collegiate career, Veghlan’s performance puts his Tommies in an ideal spot in the winner’s bracket and one step closer to the ultimate prize.

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